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    Updated: 25-Apr-2006

How Much Does It Cost To Go Cruising?
Blaine Parks


     Can you afford to go cruising?  Have you spent long hours trying to create a cruising budget, but just don’t know where to begin?  Do you just give up sometimes and put it off until later?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, welcome to the club!  Janet and I spent years trying to understand just what it would cost for us to go cruising aboard ‘Charbonneau’.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t, and still isn’t, a lot of information on the costs of cruising.  While the information in this article may not create your personal budget, perhaps knowing more about our spending will help you better understand where your money will go.  

     First, the disclaimer - The amount you spend on cruising is entirely up to you, your cruising style, and the money you have available.  We’ve seen cruisers who don’t have two cents between them, but were wonderfully happy cruising.  We’ve also seen equally happy boaters with huge mega-yachts and a full staff.  Most cruisers, like us, fall somewhere in the middle.  Since I try to only talk about things I know first-hand, that’s where I’ll focus.

      I’ll start with some basic assumptions.  I’ll assume you already have a boat that you’ve lovingly stuffed with all the things you’ll want when you go cruising (radar, radios, dinghy, microwave, etc.).  I’ll also assume that you’ve paid off the boat or that you can calculate the mortgage costs separately.  I will ignore any costs associated with keeping a house once you go cruising.  With those assumptions out of the way, let’s begin.

      The good news is that you’ll leave several categories of bills behind with no need for them on the boat.  You’ll no longer pay for monthly electricity, water, trash pick-up, homeowners’ dues, or other costs associated with land-based living.  Some people forget that and keep thinking they’ll need more money to cruise than to live on land – Not so.  You’ll also reduce your need for work-related expenses.  No more dry-cleaning, gas for the car, lunches at work, or gifts for the boss.  You just became the boss! 

     Our expenses over the last two years fall into the following categories – Provisions, fuel, communications, marinas/moorings, boat maintenance, insurance and recreation or discretionary spending.  Our expenses are based upon our choices to anchor whenever possible, eat in more than we eat out, and sail more than we motor.  Those choices have allowed us more money for recreation and discretionary spending.   Not included in our costs is the money spent on doctor or dental visits.  At this time we're healthy and have required nothing more than the yearly check-up.  In the big picture, those costs are insignificant since our insurance covers them with a small co-pay.  You may need to factor in those costs for your cruising.  Our spending, by category, is outlined below.

     This category includes food, paper products, personal hygiene, and small incidentals.  Anything you can get from a large grocery store fits here.  Our monthly average for provisions has been between $350-$450, after an initial shopping trip and bringing all our leftover foods from the home we sold.  The first shopping trip was probably close to $1000 as we not only bought what we needed immediately, but also stocked up with several ‘spares’ like extra shampoo, deodorants, toothbrushes, dishwashing and laundry detergents, etc.  We never know when we’ll run out of an item like that, so having the spares aboard prevents us from locating a store at the most inopportune times.  

     We buy most of our food in bulk from places like Sam’s Club.  We divide the larger packages of meats and cheeses into smaller packages that we vacuum seal and freeze.  Janet has a 3’ x 3’ cube-shaped space filled with our dry goods like pasta and rice.  We have extras of everything that we replace during monthly provisioning trips.  Most often, our shopping trips are for fresh, local produce.  Seafood is something we seldom buy, because we have been fortunate in our abilities to catch fresh fish during our deeper offshore sails. I’d guess that we have fresh fish for 15% of our dinners. 

     Not included in our monthly provisioning is the cost of dog food for Max & Bailey.  For anyone interested, we budget forty pounds of dry dog food per month.  We feed them a compressed, dry food with little filler, so that forty pounds goes a long way.  They each get 3 cups per day, supplemented by the occasional table scrap.  Our expenses for the dogs, including medicines and supplements, run about $100.

     Our fuel costs vary each month with cruising location, but generally run around $100.  That $100 provides diesel for our primary engine and generator, as well as gasoline for our 15hp dinghy outboard.  As I mentioned above, we often sail vs. motoring, which keeps our fuel costs down.  We have a wind generator and solar panel to provide most of our battery charging needs, so the generator is only used about 200 hours per year – often to power the water heater or cool the boat down with air-conditioning.  If you choose to travel via the ICW or don’t have alternative charging systems, your fuel costs could easily double from ours. 

     Communications is an area where personal choice will rule your budget.  This category includes mail, email, telephone, and our web page costs.  Our budget for communications is higher than the majority for several reasons.  Predominantly, it’s because we choose to be in touch with and accessible to our families, via email.  We use our cellular phone and a cellular modem when in the US and forward our mail to a Pocketmail device in other locations.  

     The cell phone service runs us $110 per month in the US.  We lower our package minutes when we’re outside the US and pay around $30 to keep our phone active.  But we add the $15 per month for Pocketmail and approximately $100 per month in calling cards outside the US.  We check email once or twice a day in the US and four to five times a week when outside the US.  

     Our regular mail is received, sorted, and forwarded every six weeks by Janet’s mother.  If you don’t have a friend or family member to trust that task to, budget some money for a mail service.  Our postage costs average $100 per year.  Another expense we have for communications is our web page costs.  We spend $52 per month to keep the web page running.  That brings our total average for communications to somewhere near $200 per month.  That is much higher than most cruisers we know. 

     This is the category that gets most first year cruisers.  When cruising is new, boaters tend to anchor out less and explore from marinas more.  We were no different.  However, with marinas costing an average of $50-80 per night, we had to break that habit very quickly.  We now spend about 90% of our time swinging on our own anchor.  Charbonneau has all the comforts of home, we can provide our own utilities, and use the dinghy as our car to visit land-based attractions.  We really didn’t have any reason to stay in the marinas except for the comfort of knowing we were tied to something stationary.  Our marina stays now are either laundry days when the marina has the only facilities or tie-ups for us to travel somewhere by car (holidays, etc.).  Our average yearly marina/mooring costs are around $1500. 

Boat Maintenance
     While boat maintenance doesn’t take the largest amount of our budget, it does take the most time.  Spending the time on preventative maintenance items will lower your overall expenditure.  We try to dedicate an hour a day to ‘boat tasks’.  That includes oil changes, inspecting systems, rebuilding heads or pumps, polishing, or performing the periodic tasks recommended by equipment manufacturers.  We haul the boat at least once every 18 months for new bottom paint and to inspect the prop and cutlass bearing.  We generally clean the bottom of the boat ourselves, with the occasional diver being hired where visibility would be difficult while snorkeling.  So far, our boat maintenance costs are averaging $2000-$3000 per year including a haul and bottom paint job every 18 months. 

     We have four types of insurance that we maintain; boat, car, renters, and a liability umbrella policy.  We choose to insure our boat for the full value, with a larger deductible to keep the costs down.  That coverage runs us about $200 per month.  Several cruisers choose to not insure at all, but we can’t afford to absorb the potential loss of our boat (home).  Our medical insurance provides for major-medical claims, co-pay for doctor visits and pharmaceuticals, with a $2500 yearly deductible – monthly cost $150 for the two of us.  We also have a car that we kept full coverage on, a renter’s policy for some things in storage, and a large liability umbrella policy to cover any unexpected accidents or claims against us.  Our total insurance costs per month are near $400.  Your own costs will vary with the size of your boat, type of medical insurance, and any additional policies you continue to carry.  

     If you’re just leaving the work force and are planning to use COBRA insurance, be prepared to pay hefty fees.  We kept COBRA for several months after leaving our jobs and it cost us triple our current rates.  Our advice is to shop around for health insurance before you leave.  We also recommend that you keep yourselves insured as a driver on someone's insurance.  If you drop your car insurance, you could find yourself paying rates as a new driver when you return.  Check with your agent.

Recreation and Discretionary Spending
     Finally, my favorite budget category!  We budget $400 per month for the fun things in our life.  It’s never as much as we’d like, but it does provide for all our needs.  We eat out 4-8 times per month, mostly lunches while sightseeing.  We enjoy the occasional car rental to see further than our legs can carry us and seldom pass up a good ice-cream cone on a hot day.  We like movies and spend some of this category’s allowance on DVDs for our movie collection.  We really haven’t encountered too many things that we couldn’t squeeze out of a months budget, but we’re not eating at 5-star restaurants every night either.  We live a middle-class life aboard Charbonneau with a few restrictions as a trade for the beauty of living on the water.  Fair trade, if you asked me. 

     Cruising will cost whatever you’re willing to give to it.  Our total monthly average is around $2000 per month.  Some months it’s higher, some a little lower.  We could cruise for much less than that by giving up items like our web page, reducing our communications with family/friends, or changing our insurance policies..  In reality though, we see most boats living comfortably on budgets ranging from $18-$30K per year.  The lower end eats out less and rarely stays in a marina.  The upper end enjoys many meals ashore and loves to be ‘plugged in’ to the local marinas.  Your personal choices will decide where you fit on the scale. 

      On the other hand, don’t make the mistake we see with so many boaters still tied to the dock.  They have a boat that would take them cruising, but instead they are looking for that ‘perfect cruising boat’ with all the toys and whistles.  You can cruise on just about any boat depending on your destinations.  Our advice is to take the boat you have and go cruising as soon as you can.  You could spend your whole life (and savings) getting your boat ready to go.  Trust me, you’ll have plenty of time to work on your boat while cruising.   And now that you know what it costs, what are you waiting for? 

We’ll see you on the water.


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